Growing through Temptation
Happy is the man who doesn't give in and do wrong when he is tempted, for afterwards he will get as his reward the crown of life that God has promised those who love him.
James 1:12 (LB)
My temptations have been my masters in divinity. Martin Luther
Every temptation is an opportunity to do good.
On the path to spiritual maturity, even temptation becomes a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block when you realize that it is just as much an occasion to do the right thing as it is to do the wrong thing. Temptation simply provides the choice. While temptation is Satan's primary weapon to destroy you, God wants to use it to develop you. Every time you choose to do good instead of sin, you are growing in the character of Christ.
To understand this, you must first identify the character qualities of Jesus. One of the most concise descriptions of his character is the fruit of the Spirit: "When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control."
These nine qualities are an expansion of the Great Commandment and portray a beautiful
description of Jesus Christ. Jesus is perfect love, joy, peace, patience, and all the other fruit embodied in a single person. To have the fruit of the Spirit is to be like Christ.
How, then, does the Holy Spirit produce these nine fruit in your life? Does he create them instantly? Will you wake up one day and be suddenly filled with these characteristics fully
developed? No. Fruit always matures and ripens slowly.
This next sentence is one of the most important spiritual truths you will ever learn: God develops the fruit of the Spirit in your life by allowing you to experience circumstances in which you're tempted to express the exact opposite quality! Character development always involves a choice, and temptation provides that opportunity.
For instance, God teaches us love by putting some unlovely people around us. It takes no character to love people who are lovely and loving to you. God teaches us real joy in the midst of sorrow, when we turn to him. Happiness depends on external circumstances, but joy is based on your relationship to God.
God develops real peace within us, not by making things go the way we planned, but by allowing times of chaos and confusion. Anyone can be peaceful watching a beautiful sunset or relaxing on vacation. We learn real peace by choosing to trust God in circumstances in which we are tempted to worry or be afraid. Likewise, patience is developed in circumstances in which we're forced to wait and are tempted to be angry or have a short fuse.
God uses the opposite situation of each fruit to allow us a choice. You can't claim to be good if you've never been tempted to be bad. You can't claim to be faithful if you've never had the opportunity to be unfaithful. Integrity is built by defeating the temptation to be dishonest; humility grows when we refuse to be prideful; and endurance develops every time you reject the temptation to give up. Every time you defeat a temptation, you become more like Jesus!
HOW TEMPTATION WORKS
It helps to know that Satan is entirely predictable. He has used the same strategy and old tricks since Creation. All temptations follow the same the pattern. That's why Paul said, "We are very familiar with his evil schemes." From the Bible we learn that temptation follows a four-step process, which Satan used both on Adam and Eve and on Jesus.
In step one, Satan identifies a desire inside of you. It may be a sinful desire, like the desire to get revenge or to control others, or it may be a legitimate, normal desire, like the desire to be loved and valued or to feel pleasure. Temptation starts when Satan suggests (with a thought) that you give in to an evil desire, or that you fulfill a legitimate desire in a wrong way or at the wrong time. Always beware of shortcuts. They are often temptations! Satan whispers, "You deserve it! You should have it now! It will be exciting ... comforting ... or make you feel better."
We think temptation lies around us, but God says it begins within us. If you didn't have the internal desire, the temptation could not attract you. Temptation always starts in your mind, not in circumstances. Jesus said, "For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within." James tells us that there is "a whole army of evil desires within you."
God develops the fruit of the Spirit by allowing you to experience circumstances in which you're tempted to express the exact opposite quality!
Step two is doubt. Satan tries to get you to doubt what God has said about the sin: Is it really wrong? Did God really say not to do it? Didn't God mean this prohibition for someone else or some other time? Doesn't God want me to be happy? The Bible warns, "Watch out! Don't let evil thoughts or doubts make any of you turn from the living God."
Step three is deception. Satan is incapable of telling the truth and is called "the Father of lies."
Anything he tells you will be untrue or just half-true. Satan offers his lie to replace what God has already said in his Word. Satan says, "You will not die. You'll be wiser like God. You can get away with it. No one will ever know. It will solve your problem. Besides, everyone else is doing it. It is only a little sin." But a little sin is like being a little pregnant: It will eventually show itself.
We think temptation lies around us, but God says it begins within us.
Step four is disobedience. You finally act on the thought you've been toying with in your mind. What began as an idea gets birthed into behavior. You give in to whatever got your attention. You believe Satan's lies and fall into the trap that James warns about: "We are tempted when we are drawn away and trapped by our own evil desires. Then our evil desires conceive and give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my dear friends!"
Understanding how temptation works is in itself helpful, but there are specific steps you need
to take to overcome it.
Refuse to be intimidated.
Many Christians are frightened and demoralized by tempting thoughts, feeling guilty that they aren't "beyond" temptation. They feel ashamed just for being tempted. This is a misunderstanding of maturity. You will never outgrow temptation.
In one sense you can consider temptation a compliment. Satan does not have to tempt those who are already doing his evil will; they are already his. Temptation is a sign that Satan hates you, not a sign of weakness or worldliness. It is also a normal part of being human and living in a fallen world. Don't be surprised or shocked or discouraged by it. Be realistic about the inevitability of temptation; you will never be able to avoid it completely. The Bible says, "When you're tempted, . . . " not if. Paul advises, "Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience."
It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted, yet he never sinned. Temptation only becomes a sin when you give in to it. Martin Luther said, "You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair." You can't keep the Devil from suggesting thoughts, but you can choose not to dwell or act on them.
For example, many people don't know the difference between physical attraction or sexual arousal, and lust. They are not the same. God made every one of us a sexual being, and that is good. Attraction and arousal are the natural, spontaneous, God-given responses to physical beauty, while lust is a deliberate act of the will. Lust is a choice to commit in your mind what you'd like to do with your body. You can be attracted or even aroused without choosing to sin by lusting. Many people, especially Christian men, feel guilty that their God-given hormones are working. When they automatically notice an attractive woman, they assume it is lust and feel ashamed and condemned. But attraction is not lust until you begin to dwell on it.
Actually, the closer you grow to God, the more Satan will try to tempt you. The moment you became God's child, Satan, like a mobster hit man, put out a "contract" on you. You are his enemy, and he's plotting your downfall.
Sometimes while you are praying, Satan will suggest a bizarre or evil thought just to distract
you and shame you. Don't be alarmed or ashamed by this, but realize that Satan fears your prayers and will try anything to stop them. Instead of condemning yourself with "How could I think such a thought?" treat it as a distraction from Satan and immediately refocus on God.
Temptation is a sign that Satan hates you, not a sign of weakness or worldliness.
Recognize your pattern of temptation and be prepared for it.
There are certain situations that make you more vulnerable to temptation than others. Some circumstances will cause you to stumble almost immediately, while others don't bother you much. These situations are unique to your weaknesses, and you need to identify them because Satan surely knows them! He knows exactly what trips you up, and he is constantly working to get you into those circumstances. Peter warns, "Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping."
Ask yourself, "When am I most tempted? What day of the week? What time of day?" Ask,
"Where am I most tempted? At work? At home? At a neighbor's house? At a sports bar? In an airport or motel out of town?" Ask, "Who is with me when I'm most tempted? Friends? Coworkers? A crowd of strangers? When I'm alone?" Also ask, "How do I usually feel when I am most tempted?" It may be when you are tired or lonely or bored or depressed or under stress. It may be when you've been hurt or angry or worried, or after a big success or spiritual high.
Ask, "Who is with me when I'm most tempted? Friends? Coworkers? A crowd of strangers? When I'm alone?" Also ask, "How do I usually feel when I am most tempted?" It may be when you are tired or lonely or bored or depressed or under stress. It may be when you've been hurt or angry or worried, or after a big success or spiritual high.
You should identify your typical pattern of temptation and then prepare to avoid those situations as much as possible. The Bible tells us repeatedly to anticipate and be ready to face temptation." Paul said, "Don't give the Devil a chance." Wise planning reduces temptation. Follow the advice of Proverbs: "Plan carefully what you do.... Avoid evil and walk straight ahead. Don't go one step off the right way."' "God's people avoid evil ways, and they protect themselves by watching where they go."
Request God's help.
Heaven has a twenty-four-hour emergency hot line. God wants you to ask him for assistance in overcoming temptation. He says, "Call on me in times of trouble. I will rescue you, and you will honor me."
I call this a "microwave" prayer because it is quick and to the point: Help! SOS! Mayday!
When temptation strikes, you don't have time for a long conversation with God; you simply cry out. David, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and millions of others have prayed this kind of instant prayer for help in trouble.
The Bible guarantees that our cry for help will be heard because Jesus is sympathetic to our struggle. He faced the same temptations we do. He "understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin."
If God is waiting to help us defeat temptation, why don't we turn to him more often? Honestly, sometimes we don't want to be helped! We want to give in to temptation even though we know it's wrong. At that moment we think we know what's best for us more than God does.
At other times we're embarrassed to ask God for help because we keep giving in to the same temptation over and over. But God never gets irritated, bored, or impatient when we keep coming back to him. The Bible says, "Let us have confidence, then, and approach God's throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it."
God's love is everlasting, and his patience endures forever. If you have to cry out for God's
help two hundred times a day to defeat a particular temptation, he will still be eager to give mercy and grace, so come boldly. Ask him for the power to do the right thing and then expect him to provide it.
Temptations keep us dependent upon God. Just as the roots grow stronger when wind blows against a tree, so every time you stand up to a temptation you become more like Jesus. When you stumble-which you will-it is not fatal. Instead of giving in or giving up, look up to God, expect him to help you, and remember the reward that is waiting for you: 'When people are tempted and still continue strong, they should be happy. After then have proved their faith, God will reward them with life forever:'
DAY TWENTY-SIX THINIUNG
ABOUT MY PURPOSE
Point to Ponder: Every temptation is an opportunity to do good.
Verse to Remember: "God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward then will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
James L 12 (NIT)
Question to Consider: What Christlike character quality can I develop by defeating the most common temptation I face?